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Mental Health

How I Cope With My Mental Health Struggles in College

Here is my mental health journey, and a few tips and tricks that get me through each day.

Being a college student may cause a lot of stress. This includes trying to manage your time appropriately, dealing with a "situationship," or making sure you chose a suitable major. COVID-19 has had a negative impact on many people's mental health, producing an increase in depression and anxiety, particularly among college students. We were cooped up inside for weeks, sitting with our emotions and having to confront them full-on without the diversions of extracurricular activities or partying with friends. Dealing with these undesired feelings and emotions may be quite difficult, and it is something I battle with on a regular basis.

Your mental health is determined by your emotions and how you deal with those feelings. It also affects how you socialize and how motivated you are in your daily duties. Depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation are all common mental health issues. Everyone's experience of depression is different. The most prevalent symptoms are exhaustion, a decrease in appetite, and a sense of feeling hopelessness. Anxiety is also different to each individual. Headaches, sweating, irregular heartbeat, and difficulty concentrating are some of the symptoms that might occur. These symptoms can occasionally lead to a panic attack.

When you're at college, it's important to prioritize your mental health. In fact, I believe that schools should allow students at least four mental health days every semester without repercussions from their professors. There were many times I wanted to skip class because I was too nervous to get out of bed and face a crowd of people, but I had to suck it up because my professor had a strict attendance requirement. This is what causes burnout in college students, which involves high stress and fatigue. 

I usually would love to give advice on how to deal with anxiety and depression, but those are things that I have struggled with for a couple of years now, and that I am still learning to push through. My anxiety comes and goes, depending on what situations are happening in my life, and what I'm unconsciously aware of. 

I remember having my first panic attack when I was 19. I wasn't sure what was going on while it was happening  and thought I was dying, so I made my mom take me to the hospital. I was stressed about school my freshman year, and it had led me to overthink so much to the point where I would hyperventilate. Three years later, I struggled with moderate anxiety, and had to be put on antidepressants to help me sleep at night. This didn’t last long for me, and eventually I stopped taking my medication and have not struggled with anxiety attacks for another 2 years. 

In 2020 when the first lockdown happened, I struggled with major depression for almost a year. It took me four months to finally open up to my mom and explain to her what has been going on with me mentally. We were locked indoors, school was all online, and I was just sitting in my room with my thoughts. I eventually got counseling and pushed through my depression.

Now, I suffer from anxiety. I was having around two panic attacks a week and couldn't seem to eat or sleep well. Not only did I have pent-up emotions, but school was back indoors for two weeks at the start of the spring semester, forcing me to stay with my thoughts and process my unwelcomed feelings. I still struggle with anxiety almost everyday, but I let my professors know ahead of time about my mental health, seeked therapy, and started new medication to help me get through my last year of college. I didn’t like the anxious feelings I started to get on a daily basis, and it was something I wanted to work on in order for me to get through my everyday life. 

When I had my panic attacks, I had no clue how to control them, and sometimes you just can’t.  If you find yourself having an anxiety attack, just remember it is all your subconscious thinking. When I find myself getting anxious, I keep telling myself over and over that things are okay, and I just push through the anxiety and let it pass. The more you think about it, the more anxious you’ll get. Changing not only my thinking habits, but routine for this semester in college helped my mental health improve a little. Maybe these things can help someone else too who also struggles with anxiety or depression.

Get sleep: Your hormones can go crazy if you don't get the right amount of sleep. In fact, lack of sleep increases your heart rate, which then can lead to anxious feelings. Sleep schedules help to regulate hormones like serotonin and dopamine, which are required to fight depression and anxiety. When my anxiety is out of whack and I physically can't sleep, I actually turn on rain sounds, open my window, and hold my body pillow, or my cat. Holding something when you sleep creates a sense of peace, and the emotional element associated with holding allows your mind to stop racing. Sleeping is very hard for me, so it is also something I am trying to get a better routine at as well.

Time Management: Working on your time management can reduce stress and anxiety. This could mean not waiting until the very last minute to do a big assignment, or organizing your day ahead of time. Something that I used to do was plan my days out. I’d tell myself the things I want to do the next day and actually do them. Being organized overall and managing your time wisely will help with any mental triggers. 

Take breaks: Taking breaks is super important and can help you recuperate. It is okay to skip one class to sit at home, read, watch a tv show or catch up on some sleep. Taking a relaxing mental health day reduces stress and can actually help you concentrate better when you have to get work done.

Talk to someone: When your world starts to become limited because of anxiety or depression, it is okay to seek help. Something that caused my panic attacks was built up emotion and unsaid words. Going to therapy is like word vomit for me. I feel safe, and not judged for talking about my feelings. Going to therapy can be a little weird for some people, I mean you’re telling your entire life story to a stranger. Only 15% of college students seeked counseling this past year. Men are also 3.6 times more likely to die by suicide than woman due to social stigma and gender roles. Talking to a therapist gives you an opportunity to explore your thoughts, feelings and pattern behavior. For instance, whether a student is struggling with what they want to major in, or dealing with a difficult personal situation, talking to a counselor can help them get over those mental blocks. 

College burnout is a real thing, and it’s really important to recognize your triggers and emotions and process them in a healthy way. It doesn’t hurt to talk to someone, take a rest day, or maybe switch up your routine a tiny bit if that will improve your mental health overall. This is something that is universal that a majority of people can relate to, and it may be very difficult to face. If you notice your stress or depression getting the best of you, don't be afraid to talk to a friend, seek professional help, and do some of the techniques above to help you have a great college experience!

Keyra Milan

Temple '23

Just a confused 26 year old who sometimes writes things.
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